Candidate qualifying begins in race to replace Tommy Hazouri in Jacksonville
Jacksonville City Hall.

Five candidates seek the open Jacksonville City Council seat.

At least five candidates have declared their intentions to run to replace a fallen icon of the Jacksonville City Council.

Former Council member Tommy Hazouri, a Democrat, passed away on Sept. 11, creating a vacancy required by ordinance to be filled by a Special Election, and the candidates have made their intentions known since.

Monday sees the beginning of qualifying for the At Large Group 3 opening. The qualifying period begins at noon and ends at noon Friday.

Three Republicans are in the mix, two of whom have been elected before.

Soil and Water Commissioner John Barnes won the election to the post in 2020.

Barnes is a former University of North Florida student body president. He launched his campaign with a major endorsement from former Jacksonville Mayor and UNF President John Delaney.

Former two-term district Council member Matt Schellenberg filed, but withdrew Monday.

Schellenberg represented the Southside and Mandarin from 2011 to 2019. He hit the two-term limit and could not run for reelection. The city’s general counsel said Schellenberg would not be eligible to run because the Special Election is to fill a term that began with that 2019 election.

Republican Nick Howland is the third candidate in the race.

U.S. Rep. John Rutherford endorsed Howland, who serves as Executive Director of the Fire Watch, in the strongest possible terms. Rutherford called him a “patriot” and appealed to “true conservatives” to back him.

Two Democrats are also running.

Democrat Tracye Polson ran a closely contested and costly campaign for a House seat on Jacksonville’s Westside in 2018 and is the choice of establishment Democrats such as Sen. Audrey Gibson, Reps. Tracie Davis and Angie Nixon, and expected 2023 mayoral candidate Donna Deegan. Polson is who Hazouri wanted to succeed her, and she has declared AL 3 a “Democratic seat.”

A second Democrat, James “Coach” Jacobs, also is in the field. Jacobs has run before, but he has raised less than $800 for his current run, which was technically launched months ago in anticipation of the 2023 General Election.

Duval County presents a paradox of Democratic disempowerment via creative district maps. Though Democrats have an advantage in registered voters exceeding 40,000, the City Council is a Republican supermajority.

After Hazouri’s passing, 13 Republicans and just five Democrats are on the Council.

That will be the case for most of the winter, most likely, as city ordinance dictates a vacancy, leaving Gov. Ron DeSantis no recourse to appoint a substitute.

All candidates must live in At-Large Group 3, but the First Election (Dec. 7) and the General Election (Feb. 22) allow voters across Duval County to vote for whoever they want regardless of party identification.

The First Election serves as an open Primary unless one candidate gets a majority of the votes, which is unlikely in a five-person field.

Meanwhile, victory will be short-lived, as the seat is up for election in the 2023 cycle. That would be for a full four-year term.

A.G. Gancarski

A.G. Gancarski has written for since 2014. He is based in Northeast Florida. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter: @AGGancarski


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